Dominican-American singer Kat DeLuna was sitting in a car in Tucson when the whirring bass of her 2007 hit “Whine Up” started slowly filling the stereo. For a second, she thought someone had slipped on a CD of the single, which she had just recorded with producer RedOne. Then, she realized she had the radio on — and that her song was actually playing over the airwaves.
DeLuna ran out of the car screaming.
“I almost got hit twice,” she laughs. “I stopped everyone passing by and yelled, ‘Stop! I’m an artist and this is my song! I’m on the radio!’ I went crazy. It was the most exhilarating, insane feeling in the world.”
DeLuna was a baby-faced 19-year-old and a relative newcomer to the music industry then. But “Whine Up” spread like wildfire, and her moment shrieking in the middle of the street was just a preview of the madness that would follow. The song skyrocketed to no. 1 the Billboard Dance charts. You couldn’t walk into any club in New York without hearing the thudding dancehall rhythm, DeLuna’s power vocals, and Elephant Man’s booming verse. The recording was certified gold and scored Billboard’s Latin Dance Club Play Track of the Year in 2008.
Even crazier? That was all one decade ago. “Whine Up” celebrates its 10th birthday this August, when it officially saw the light as part of DeLuna’s debut album 9 Lives. Now 29, the endlessly optimistic singer is just as chatty and exuberant as she was as a teen, often talking a mile a minute and bursting into giggles as she remembers the impact of “Whine Up.” “It’s been 10 years since the song came out, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my God.’ I’m so humbled, appreciative, and thankful,” she told Remezcla over the phone. The anniversary also comes as DeLuna, who has focused her attention on international markets the last few years, prepares to release her first EP in the U.S. since 9 Lives.
DeLuna got her start young, singing “El Me Mintio” by Amanda Miguel at a talent show in the Dominican Republic at age 3. By the time she turned 12, the Bronx-raised singer had opened up for La India and Marc Anthony at local festivals in New Jersey and New York. She went to Newark Arts High School — the only place to which she’d applied — and trained in opera.
“To me, it wasn’t just a song. I really thought of it as a movement.”
After graduating, DeLuna shopped her music around and met with eight different labels. Her ninth meeting was with Charlie Walk of Epic Records. DeLuna sang Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and an original she had written in Spanish. Walk signed her immediately. Just after, her lawyer and a friend encouraged her to meet with soon-to-be superstar Swedish-Moroccan producer Nadir Khayat, also known as RedOne.
“We sit down and we kick it from the get-go,” DeLuna remembered of her meeting with RedOne. “He talked to me about Morocco, and I told him I was Dominican, and we were just this worldwide team…We started playing around and producing on the spot, and can you believe it, but the beat for ‘Whine Up’ just came about right there.” Within a month, DeLuna and RedOne had put together her entire first album — named 9 Lives for the number of labels DeLuna had met with before signing to Epic.
“Whine Up” stood out on the album from the beginning. DeLuna’s agile voice soars and her rap verse is so convincing that a lot of publications mistakenly credited Ivy Queen on the track. “We played it for the label and they went crazy. When we found Elephant Man [to be featured on it], he was like ‘Wow, this is the song of the summer,’” DeLuna said. “Usually, you have to do all these interviews and promotion for your music. From the moment it came out, I was playing catch up. The song was its own interview.”
The video for “Whine Up” also blew up, becoming ubiquitous on MTV and TRL. Directed by Gil Green, it was set in Astoria, Queens and opens with a clip of DeLuna showing off her opera training by singing Carl Orff’s cantata “Carmina Burana.” Then, a bunch of boomboxes blast almost in unison, and a massive Carnaval-style party — which included cameos from DeLuna’s grandmother and nephew — breaks out in the street.
DeLuna reveals now that it had actually been thundering and pouring rain in New York that day. Her mom pulled her aside and said, “Nena, this is not bad luck. This is a blessing,” explaining that the rain would wash away any negativity. The words charged DeLuna with energy. “When I’m walking with the blue dress and the little Marc Jacobs heels, my hair isn’t that great because it was so rainy and foggy. But I wouldn’t change a moment of it. The rain made us work harder.”
The video was a bursting visual parade of Caribbean and Afro-diasporic culture. An explosion of flags — visibly, Jamaican and Dominican banners — honor the song’s black roots, and the setting smack dab in the middle of a Queens block party recognized the power of New York’s West Indian, Puerto Rican, and Dominican communities. At the center of it, DeLuna commanded attention — a young, Dominican-American singing in Spanish and English, offering a shared moment of visibility for her community worldwide. “To me, it wasn’t just a song. I really thought of it as a movement for people — something that was very international,” she said.
Following “Whine Up’s” success, DeLuna toured in Europe, where the song had connected with a broad range of audiences. “People in France knew every single word to the rap part in Spanish,” DeLuna said. She began releasing music in European markets, following 9 Lives up with Inside Out in 2010 and the compilation album Loading in 2016. She also kept traveling and touring, and found new inspiration in performing for international fans. A show of hers in Madagascar drew 80,000 people (the lights went out at the venue and DeLuna kept the show going by singing opera without a mic). In Cambodia, her audience included the country’s Prime Minister.
“I feel like traveling and touring is really where I grew up, and matured,” DeLuna said. “I’ve done a lot of shows and countries that other people won’t do, and a lot of people say, ‘Why would you go there?’ But I think it’s not about me… it’s about inspiring other people. That’s who I am now.”
DeLuna says her new EP, which is called Viva Out Loud, plays with a range of sounds that she hasn’t tapped into before: one song is fully in Spanish, another is a ballad. But a lot of the music continues the style DeLuna championed 10 years ago — a mix of dancehall, dembow, and reggaeton that fits neatly into what’s on the charts today. DeLuna says she sees “Whine Up” — and “Move Ya Body” by her contemporaries Nina Sky — as precursors to the global wave taking over now. “I’m like, ‘Oh, this is what I was doing 10 years ago!’ she laughs. “I’m just kidding. It feels good that we Latinos are influencing the world through our dance and our culture, and it’s more like, ‘This is beautiful, this is awesome. Let’s keep it going.’”